Work

Too Bad You Can’t Trust HR

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© 2019 Peitho Publishing / Michael Froehls
Written by Michael Froehls

I have some wonderful friends who work in HR. It’s not their or other HR people’s fault that HR usually does not get much respect from employees in large corporations. Instinctly, workers know that they can’t trust HR.

Accounting, audit, facility management, strategy, and other non-HR corporate administrative functions all have clear mandates, and their goals and behaviors are transparent and predictable. There is rarely a real surprise for you, the employee, when dealing with them.

HR is different. HR is a corporate function that by design has to rely on spin, is torn between conflicting mandates, and is too often run by people without any sense for business.

Even worse, HR frequently pursues its own agenda by coming up with lofty, idiosyncratic goals (such as “innovative” appraisal systems) that take away valuable employees’ time or prevent the company from running at its best (for example, by meddling in hiring/firing decisions).

Rarely is HR held accountable for its actions. It’s too amorphous, working in the background, and usually too powerful to be challenged by individuals within a large corporation, no matter their seniority. 

Look at some real examples to see for yourself what could be wrong with corporate HR.

Roadblock to New Hires

The company’s hiring manager is about to make you an offer. Then there is a delay. One potential reason: HR tries vetoing you because its desired quota of “diversity” has not been met. Or it argues that you should earn less because it thinks pay for your level should be the same across departments, ignoring the fact that job markets differ for every profession. Maybe you are a “nontraditional” hire; good luck to your prospective boss in convincing HR that you still could fit into the “company’s culture.”

Overpromising

Lucky you! You were not vetoed and are happy to accept the offer after HR confirmed the incredible benefits, learning, and career opportunities awaiting you. Funny, HR staff somehow forgot to mention the cut in retirement benefits starting next year or the delayed promotion cycle expected to go into effect soon. 

Insincere Performance Reviews

Almost everybody hates annual performance reviews, both reviewer and reviewed. Why? They are usually a pointless, cynical exercise. While HR touts performance reviews as a means of “helping employees grow professionally,” you know that the (often forced) rankings and “your three improvement areas” are used to keep annual bonus payments and requests for promotions in check.

Playing Gray Eminence

HR likes being Gray Eminence when it comes to the management of employees. HR might invite employees to share in confidence their concerns about their co-workers and their boss. This information most likely will come back to haunt everybody involved.  

Another classic: If HR likes one of your employees, but you think he is a bad performer, tough luck. You are asked to deal with him — it’s your problem; you probably are just a bad manager who needs to improve his people skills. Or say you want to promote this great junior employee faster than usual. Sorry, not possible. Not only has she not completed the mandatory leadership training scheduled for next year, but also you cannot have “more than four assistant vice presidents under one vice president,” according to current HR policies. 

Scary HR Policies

Watch out for scary HR policies in the most unsuspected corners. You are asked to take on a broader role in a different country. HR will congratulate you on your new assignment and the “trust the company puts in you.” It conveniently will not point out all the financial holes in HR’s “standard moving policies,” policies that shift as many risks and costs to you as possible (for example, not paying your move back to the U.S. in case of separation; not reimbursing you for double taxation).

Management’s Spin Doctor

HR has to soothe employees in times of cost cutting. Everyone knows pretty well where the recently started “strategic costs review” will lead. This will not stop HR and senior management from treating you like children by sending memos reminding you and your colleagues that “nothing is final, no need to listen to rumors; instead continue concentrating on your work” — all the while preparing pink slips for 20 percent of the workforce. 

Takeaway

No matter your seniority in your company, always understand HR’s motivation and extent of power. Learn how to play your company’s HR “games,” but be wary. The problem is not the fine people who work in HR, but what this corporate function frequently makes them do. 

© 2019 Michael Froehls – All Rights Reserved

Photo Credit: © Michael Froehls

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